HL Deb 28 May 1924 vol 57 cc703-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, as indicated in the speech which I made in introducing the West Indian Islands (Telegraph) Bill, the Pacific Cable Bill has been drafted in order to confer upon the Pacific Cable Board the power to operate and maintain the new system authorised by the Bill to which your Lordships have just given a Second Reading. I think I can explain the provisions of this second Bill in a few sentences. The Pacific Cable Board is composed of representatives of His Majesty's Government, of the Government of Canada, of the Commonwealth of Australia, and of the Dominion of New-Zealand, and has been successful in operating the cable from Vancouver Island to New Zealand and Australia. The Board has been approached and has agreed to take over the management of the system, subject to the consent of the Governments represented on the Board. The Government of Canada, who are parties to the present scheme, have already agreed, and it is understood that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments will have no objection to the proposals. The present powers of the Board, however, are not sufficient to enable them to take over the system without legislation amending the Acts under which the Board was constituted, and this Bill has therefore been drafted to confer the necessary powers.

There is another thing which I should say. The opportunity has at the same time been taken to draft the Bill in the form which will enable the Pacific Cable Board, provided that the consent of the I partner Governments represented on the Board is first obtained, to operate any other system of cables or wireless telegraphy on behalf of any of the Governments of His Majesty's Dominions. It is not at present contemplated, however, that the Board should be asked to undertake any other work than cable and wireless communications in the West Indies. The opportunity has at the same time been taken in Clause 1, subsection (2), to introduce a provision legalising the action already taken by the Board, with the consent of the Governments represented thereon, in connection with the two cables worked by the Government of the United Kingdom between that country and Canada. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Arnold.)


My Lords, this Bill goes a very long way. Under Clause 1 it authorises the Pacific Cable Board, with the consent of the representatives of the various Governments, to "undertake as agents for and at the expense of the Governments of any parts of His Majesty's Dominions, any work in connection with telegraphic communication, whether by means of cables or by means of wireless telegraphy, without any restriction as to the geographical limit of their operations." That means, if words mean anything, that any part of His Majesty's Dominions, with the consent of the Pacific Cable Board, may have cables or wireless telegraphy over any part of the world.

The history of the Pacific Cable Board is as follows. In 1901 a cable was authorised from Vancouver to New Zealand and Queensland, five-eighteenths of the cost to be borne by England and thirteen-eighteenths by New Zealand, Canada, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. In 1912 another Act was passed which substituted the Commonwealth of Australia for the three States of Australia. Another Act, passed in 1911, authorised a cable from Australia to New Zealand and any other connection or arrangement in or near the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, up to the present time the Pacific Cable Board have only been authorised to have cables or wireless telegraphy in or near the Pacific Ocean. The noble Lord has just told us that they do not intend to extend the powers under this Bill beyond those powers authorised in the West Indian Islands (Telegraph) Bill which your Lordships have just read a second time. If that is so I want to know why it is that he asks for these extensive powers.

A few days ago I observed in a newspaper the following statement— In view of the decision which must be taken by the Cabinet on the question of the ownership and operation of wireless services in this country, the Union of Post Office Workers last night issued a manifesto urging that British wireless should be undertaken by the State. The manifesto states that the national welfare and security demand the State ownership and operation of all wireless services in this country. The services of the fighting forces must cooperate closely with the national services. This, it states, is impossible if the national services are operated by a private company. It seems a little curious, following on the announcement of this decision on the part of the Post Office employees, that the Government should bring in a Bill which would enable them to control and operate wireless services over the whole world.

That is State trading with a vengeance. I should like to know what is to become of private companies which already own cables. This Bill empowers the Government, with all its resources, to lay cables against private companies which may have been in existence a great number of years, and also to instal wireless stations against the Marconi Company which has also been in existence for some years. If the Government really means to confine the operations of this Bill to the extent the noble Lord indicated in connection with the West Indian Islands (Telegraph) Bill I hope he will agree, in Committee, to a limitation which will really carry out that object. If not, and if I can get any support, I shall certainly divide against the Second Reading.


My Lords. I think the point made by the noble Lord who has just spoken is very important and should commend itself to the attention of the Government. I rise, however, for the purpose of thanking the Government, for dealing with the question of the West Indies. Having recently visited those Islands, which are among the, most loyal portions of His Majesty's Dominions, and having had an opportunity of realising the difficult conditions through which they have recently passed and the bitter struggles they have endured for some years, I know how urgently they desire this Bill. I think it will have very advantageous effects. I regret very much that certain Governments have not done more towards the development of telegraphic and cable systems in which this country took an active part and towards which we contributed. We have been far too dependent in the past on cables and telegraphic systems in whose management we had no control. Anybody who has travelled abroad in our own Dominions must be aware of the unfortunate results which have followed from this serious limitation in the transmission of news from this country to the different Dominions. The action of the Government in introducing these two Bills, subject to an alteration as suggested by the noble Lord, will be greatly appreciated by that part of the Empire which, up to the present, has grievously suffered under the existing conditions.


My Lords, I can only speak again with the permission of the House. Let me thank the noble Viscount who has just spoken for what he has said. As I have explained, these Bills were prepared by the late Government, and I can say without fear of contradiction that the present Government have lost no time in bringing them forward. With regard to the point made by Lord Banbury of Southam, I think he reads into the Bill a good deal more than is there. In any case it is a Committee point. As a matter of fact the Bill does not authorise the making of any fresh cables, nor does it authorise His Majesty's Government to spend any money on any new cable. All that the Bill does is to allow the Board to work any cable or system at the request of any Government of His Majesty's Dominions. If the noble Lord is not satisfied I presume he will put down an Amendment for the Committee stage when the matter can be again discussed. I was not proposing to put down the Committee stage until to-day week, if that is satisfactory.



On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.